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Muscle Hypertrophy Explained

A Muscle Building Guide For Beginner & Advanced Alike

Posted by Whisper - February 1st, 2015

Introduction
 There is a lot of information out there on the topic of gaining muscle. Lots of people have come up with unique “secrets” and want you to think that building muscle is complicated.  That is why these so called experts have developed special hypertrophy  routines and parameters, but the truth is you cannot actually train for hypertrophy. You can either train for strength or strength endurance. Strength means how much weight you can lift (usually for low reps) and strength endurance means how many times you can lift a relatively heavy weight. Therefore, hypertrophy comes as a by-product of getting stronger and progressing in the gym. Essentially, any type of lifting weights will lead to hypertrophy. That is why powerlifters are massive like bodybuilders. Same with Olympic lifters and strongman athletes. Even crossfit training can lead to hypertrophy if your programming is smart and effective. Any time you progress in the gym, you should expect muscle gains because muscle mass follows strength and strength endurance, especially for non-enhanced athletes. Stay tuned and we will cover how to achieve that progressive overload in order to gain maximum hypertrophy.

Concentrate On Basic Compound Movements
Spend most of your time in the gym doing heavy compound movements. Best compound movements in no particular order are: the Deadlift, the Squat, the Bench Press, the Bent Over Row, the Dips, the Chin-ups, the Overhead Press and all their variations. If you don’t like barbell bench press and want to do close grip bench press or dumbbell incline press that is fine. The results will be similar or identical. Although the squat is great, if you can only do front squats you will not notice any difference in leg development.

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Supplement Smaller Isolation-Type Exercises Where You See Fit
Isolation exercises are not useless by any means. But you should only use them in two instances. The first one is when you feel a body part is lagging after a year or two of serious training. If you notice your hamstrings are lagging, go ahead and add some glute/ham raises in your workout. If you notice your biceps are lagging, add some incline dumbbell curls to spice things up.  You will not be able to progress much with isolation exercises in terms of weight or repetitions but their point is to just stimulate some extra muscle growth here and there. The second reason to use them is to prevent imbalances. Although the barbell bent over row is amazing, you might want to add some face pulls in the mix to keep your shoulders healthy.

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Train With Frequency Rather Than Volume
Volume training is overrated. You do need  to have some volume in your training meaning that you can’t build muscle mass if you only do 1 rep sets and leave the gym. But frequency plays a much more important role for non-enhanced athletes. Do those basic compound movements at least 2 times a week. 3 times a week will be optimal for the majority of the people reading this. Muscles get repaired within 24-48hours after your workouts. Do not mistake DOMS with muscle micro-tears. You might be sore for 5 days but that does not mean you are growing. The growth stops occurring after 48 hours at the max. With that in mind, if you want to stimulate growth the whole week and not just 2 days every week, you should train those basic movements 3 times a week.


Structure A Well-Designed Program
A good program consists of 4 basic parameters.

  1. What type of split should I use?
    The answer to this is simple. Just try to fit the exercises you want to progress with in this program in a way that you can perform them 2-3 times a week without interfering with one another. That means give a muscle group at least 48 hours before you train it again, to make sure your recovery process is completed. The easier way to do this is with full body workouts 3 times a week or upper body/lower body split. A push/pull/leg split can work too but make sure you are recovering completely.

  2. Which exercises should I use?
    There will be a program attached to this section but to sum it all up, you want to create a balance in your program. If you choose the barbell bench press, which is a pressing movement, you have to add a pulling-type movement like the barbell row and possibly a leg movement like the squat. You cannot just do the exercises that you love because this will create imbalances which often lead to serious injuries. If you cannot train, you cannot add muscle mass so try to avoid injuries by smart programming.  

  3. How many repetitions should I do?
    This really does not matter. You can do 10 rep sets, 5 rep sets or 3 rep sets and everything in between and you will gain maximum hypertrophy if you focus on progressing with the exercise. If you choose to stay at a low rep range like 2-5 you will gain more strength in relation to 5-10 reps. But you will gain more strength endurance with 5-10 reps. The hypertrophy though will be almost identical. Also, keep in mind that you do not have to train only for the one or the other. If you increase your 10-rep max on the bench press, your 1-rep max automatically increases and vice versa.

  4. How many sets should I do for a muscle group?
    This is highly controversial but exercise science dictates that 1 set is enough for muscle growth if done with concentration, heavy load and max effort. The first set of your first exercise will be responsible for up to 80% of the muscle stimulation you are going to achieve in the workout. Preferably you should do 3-5 sets in total to make sure you are getting that 100%, meaning maximum hypertrophy. If a muscle group contains multiple heads or areas you can optionally add another exercise for the lagging area. For example, we know that as far as chest development goes, there the upper chest fibers and the lower chest fibers. Although, a standard barbell bench press will stimulate your whole chest, you can choose to add 2-3 more sets of an incline fly to make sure, your upper chest doesn’t get neglected. Another option here, when you create your program is this: Do the flat bench press on your first workout of the week and the incline bench press on the next one. That way you get the best of both worlds.


Make Sure You Are On A Caloric Surplus Every Day
You have to eat enough food if you want to add muscle mass at the fastest rate possible. In the best possible scenario you should be at 0-10% caloric surplus every day. That means, if your body needs 2.000 calories to maintain its weight, make sure you are eating 2000-2200 calories a day. Going further than +10% will possible result in considerable fat gains as well, and going less than 0% means you are on a caloric deficit and this is not optimal for muscle hypertrophy. It is not impossible to achieve fat loss and muscle gain at the same time but it is not advised because of the difficulty factor.

Total calories matter more than individual macro-nutrients. Having said that, carbs and protein should be your priority. You do not need massive amounts of protein to build maximum muscle mass. For someone that weighs 160lbs, 80-150 grams of protein are enough to build muscle according to nutrition science. If you want to sleep better at night, raise that up to 170. If you choose to go for higher amounts of protein (in the range of 250+), there is no considerable health risks but you have to understand that the majority of the excess protein gets converted to carbs by a series of metabolic reactions in your body. Essentially, you will be buying expensive carbs.

Make Sure You Are Getting Enough Sleep
The muscle repair process mainly takes place when you are sleeping. While 6 hours can be enough, 8 hours are probably optimal.

Progressive Overload
There are a lot of variables when it comes to training but what you should grasp from all this, is that you have to make progress and train for it. Make short term and long term goals. If you are currently squatting 225lbs for 5 reps, set as a goal to be able to squat 315lbs for 5 reps in 6 months or to be able to squat 225lbs for 12 reps in 2 months. This is realistic goal planning for non-enhanced athletes. Next up, there are three programs that you can choose from. Feel free to alter them according to your needs. Each exercise is a hyperlink, directing you to the MS exercise and routine section. It is only available for platinum members,

This is a very common strategy followed by a lot of people successfully. Check out Daniel Meyer’s program as it is the best push/pull/legs program out there in my opinion.

Link below:
http://muscularstrength.com/article/Beginners-Hypertrophy-Program-muscle-gain


Closing Up
Choose any of the programs above based on your personal preferences and your personal schedule! Follow the principles explained above and feel free to comment below, tell me your opinions and ask any questions you may have. Thank you for reading.


If this article helped you and you'd like to learn more ways to maximize your results, SIGN-UP for the Platinum Membership today!

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posted by Whisper
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MS Content Manager

Bachelors in Biochemistry
Strength Athlete & Aikido Practitioner

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MEMBER COMMENTS
ScottTousignant
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Overall good article man... although you lost me at, "You can't actually train for hypertrophy"??? Strength is a byproduct of lifting heavy shit... not to mention that strength is relative. I can get stronger in the 3-5 rep range, 6-10 rep range, 10+... We train for the byproduct that we desire. I want bigger muscles and an aesthetic physique I will train for that byproduct.

You've got a decent variety of rep ranges in the training. I'd love to see more exercises performed in the 6-10 rep range which causes greater hypertrophy than the 3-5 rep range. 3-5 reps causes more of a neurological adaptation. Yes you can gain muscle from it, but your muscle won't hypertrophy to the degree it would from the 6-12 rep range, which causes metabolic adaptations.

Volume is KING for hypertrophy! I think it's important to distinguish total volume throughout the week vs volume during a single workout. In many cases you can hit a higher volume when you increase the frequency you train each muscle during the week.

2-3x per week is a good guideline for most people. Once every 5 days or twice per week seems to be most effective... but frankly, I believe that limiting it to just this frequency will leave results on the table. There are benefits to training a muscle once per week... and there are benefits to training a muscle 5 or 6 days per week. Frequency is the most under utilized variable in my opinion. So many people either get married to once a week splits or 3 x per week full body workouts. There are other frequencies that work great... and they can all feed off each other when you strategically work them into your yearly plan.

matt42van
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One issue I have with the fitness industry...as most do...is the variety of information and different "answers" with regards to any one question...for instance...rest and recovery.  this always seemed to be consistant, that people say 1-3 days is best with at least 2 recommended. But a question about crossfit workouts seemingly training the same muscle groups on following days(they seem to largly train the same muscles at every workout within reason).  Then I came across a site that says in order to optimize muscle growth you NEED to train bodyparts on back to back days....WTF!?

Scott_Herman  Edit  Delete  Close

Hey bro, if things are stale... why not do my workouts for the transformation challenge.  PUSH, PULL, LEGS routine style.

matt42van  Edit  Delete  Close

Also...as a follow up question...how much hypertrophy is too much...and why?  


Thanks for the article as well...as Ive reached a stale mate in my training, trying to change things up...

tej19dalvi
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Thank u Whisper!!!. It is an awesome article.


SittingPress
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Thanks for the article whisper but I must respectfully disagree with regards to the ideas put forth on both repetitions and sets. 


You claim, "exercise science dictates that 1 set is enough for muscle growth if done with concentration" Do you have any references for this? This sounds like what I've heard from those who promote DC  but even with DC training, the leading "warm-up" sets heading into a "working set" usually means that each exercise gets 4-5 sets. Most research I've seen that strictly limits to one set per exercise does not show hypertrophy gains in participants. 


I also feel the literature leans towards repetitions mattering to determine hypertrophy vs strength. I know for myself, growth is stagnent in the low rep ranges while the mid range seem to lead to the best "gains". Each individual is different but I find it best to follow plans that vary the rep ranges and weight in a periodized program for helping to stimulate both growth and strength. 


Maybe I'm just reading it wrong, and I actually like your workout plan as it incorporates good principles and seems to borrow elements from many different styles. 

Whisper  Edit  Delete  Close

Agreed! This article is particularly aggressive in order to make people think more and stop following advice without judging it for themselves. Get in the gym, try everything, track your progress or lack of progress, see what works for you and follow it

SittingPress  Edit  Delete  Close

Makes sense, and honestly if you think about it, the approach of power lifting as a part of body building, is actually an older trend making a new comeback. My comments really were based on the idea that the key component for growth, in the scientific literature, seems to be volume (weight x reps). That being said, there are many other avenues that also will play a role for hypertrophy and added growth. What's most fascinating is that inspite of all the research and science, the real data is done in the gym and when you especially look at the old time lifters, it really comes down to putting in the work, moving heavy, moving it frequently and from all angles.

Whisper  Edit  Delete  Close

Thanx for reading this @sittingpress :)


While writing this article, I came across several papers, some leaning towards what I m writing here, others towards the complete opposite. Therefore, each reader must judge what they read, try different things and see what works for them. Obviously 1 set will not be enough for OPTIMAL hypertrophy, and that is why I suggest 3-5 sets per muscle group, sometimes more, as a lot of the exercises cover more than 1 muscle groups. Obviously this goes against methods like german volume training (10 sets of 10), but that is as far as I m willing to go.


And as for low reps leading to hypertrophy we know its true but as you said its not the same for everybody. Changing body composition via powerlifting is becoming a new trend these days because its a good alternative to bodybuilding. Your genetics will of course dictate how your body reacts to different methods of training. 


This article is a bit more sophisticated in comparison to other stuff out there and for a reason. I dont care for pure hypertrophy without building some kind of structure, some kind of strength, some kind of functionality. Thats why I emphasize some core movements with low reps ( which you could definitely perform with higher reps if you think your body reacts better to it) and then after you did the important functional stuff, I move along to smaller isolation "bodybuilding" exercises with higher reps. Those isolation movements can also be performed with low reps but in my opinion that will not lead to much hypertrophy at all.


I understand this can be controversial and maybe a hot topic because of what we have been taught over the years but I have to thank you for reading this and expressing your opinion :)

heyhay5212
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I have a question about front squats. You mention that front squats will not contribute to leg devedevelopment. What is the reason behind this?

heyhay5212  Edit  Delete  Close

Gotcha. Thanks for the clarification. 

Whisper  Edit  Delete  Close

Yea thats right Jordan. Maybe it was a little confusing to be honest. I meant any variation of the squat will make almost no difference and that small difference is not due to the exercise selection, but it depends on how a person is built biomechanically :)

JoeHurricane  Edit  Delete  Close

Do you mean this comment @heyhay5212?


"Although the squat is great, if you can only do front squats you will not notice any difference in leg development."


I think it means that both front squats AND regular squats will have similar benefits. Basically that if you choose to do front squats instead of back squats, your legs will still build about the same.

JoeHurricane
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It's a good read so far, lots of valuable information...


But I want to know why face pulls are essential!


They are essential because...

wstar2
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Working on it :)

Whisper  Edit  Delete  Close

Ok brother, it works great now! good job!

Wstar  Edit  Delete  Close

Alright Whisper, try now! Keep me posted if it works for you now.

Whisper  Edit  Delete  Close

Let me know when its resolved Jerrod :)

Whisper
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For anybody reading this, sorry it cuts in half, we are experiencing some technical problems. I m not deleting this however because I dont want to lose an hour of editing work :) It will probably be available for reading tomorrow :)